Defining Lélia Pissarro the Artist
Ann Saul

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The first question people put to her when they hear her name is: “Are you related to... ?” and she always answers,“Yes.”
It is usually Camille Pissarro that people are referring to, Lélia’s great-grandfather. Sometimes they are referring to Lucien, Camille’s first-born, himself a well-known, respected artist. He is Lélia’s great-uncle. Often it is Paulémile, Camille’s youngest child, whose art is well-known and lovingly collected around the world. He is Lélia’s grandfather.

How does an artist begin to define herself and her work with such a legacy? As the youngest of an unbroken family line of artists, (her father Hugues- Claude is also a successful artist) she has amply demonstrated that she has untapped capacities. She is both like and unlike her ancestors – she is her own artist.

In this way she is strikingly similar to Camille Pissarro, who, unlike most Impressionists, defies definition. Think of Monet and you visualise haystacks; sunflowers suggest Van Gogh; the name Degas evokes ballerinas. Though many Pissarro paintings are familiar, Camille Pissarro is not identifiable by any single image. His oeuvre was constantly changing because he insistently chose new challenges.While other artists found their comfortable niche, he continued to transform his art.

Lélia Pissarro is a complex woman with many planes and facets. Nowhere is this more evident than in her art. As a little girl she lived with her Grandparents and was taught to paint by Paulémile. When she was four a prominent art dealer bought one of her paintings and thus a working artist came into being. She learned art from her grandfather and then her father Hugues-Claude before studying at the world’s best art schools. Initially she followed the family tradition of Impressionism, within which she created exceptional figurative paintings.

After many years of conformity to the requirements of figurative art she began to ask questions, to experiment, to push the limits of what she had been taught. In 2004 she created a series of paintings centred upon the house of Yeyette Lebatard, not far from her grandfather’s home in Clécy. While the composition is familiar, the forms are stretched and bent; the colours probe the spectrum, creating a kaleidoscope of images, each one different yet each the same. They defy a strict Impressionist label.

Later, her vivid imagination was fired when first a charity, then a friend commissioned a series of shoes. The amazing creations from that venture were so successful that fashion professionals approached her to design shoes and boots! Nevertheless, she adhered to her artistic birthright even while expanding the frontiers of her own artistic identity.

After an enforced break of several years from painting, her creative spirit resurfaced and could no longer be restrained. She flung herself wholeheartedly into a totally abstract artistic expression - sometimes monotone, sometimes wildly colourful. She captured light and colour in ways which were adventurous and imaginative, sometimes using glitters, silver and gold to enrich the fracture. These paintings came from depths within herself that she had never before probed. She set herself challenges which were beyond traditionalism, combining her broad knowledge and years of experience to explore fresh directions in her abstract expression.

Subsequently, once again, Lélia followed her inquisitive artistic nature, examining figurative painting from an alternative perspective – a mode which is at once familiar and contemporary. She brought a fresh eye to the familiar yet demanding subject of Yeyette’s house in Clécy, painting it now on giant canvases, creating a series of nine paintings, three each of black, grey and white.

While these canvases are intended to be shown as a group, each one can stand alone. As viewers, we are no longer looking at a simple representation of a familiar image. We are entering the artist’s world, standing eye to eye with each stroke of the palette knife. In the vast expanse of these canvases, it is the subtleties and the contrasts which are distinctive – the movement created by the thick impasto, the delicate shading of colours which incorporate elusive greys and whites, tinting even the darkest of the blacks.

The life-force within Lélia, her artistic impulses, or her ‘sensations’, as Camille Pissarro might say, are too compelling to deny, too persuasive to postpone. She continues steadfastly in her quest to challenge, deconstruct and reconstruct, expand and redefine her artistic frontiers, in a never-ending exploration of her unique potential.

She is so much more than an abstract artist, far more than a contemporary figurative artist and certainly more than just her legacy. What we can say with certainty is that Lélia Pissarro remains true to herself, an artist exploring her own sensations and dedicated to creating her own art.